Changing the Adoption Paradigm

I am just one voice—that of an adoptive mother and writer. But in my opinion and research, the United States is way out of whack compared to other developed countries when it comes to our booming adoption industry. Take a look at this article from Musings of a Birthmom: “A Comparison in Adoption – The United States Vs. Europe.”

Certainly, adoption can be the best option in certain circumstances, perhaps in the case of true orphans, especially those who can find a good kinship placement. But I believe adoption in the United States should be a lot less common than it is now. Adoption is based on loss and trauma and should therefore be thought of as one of the last options not the best first option.  

Let’s start with foster care adoption. Most children end up in foster care due a charge of neglect, which often has ties to poverty and addiction. I believe families should receive help for addiction and poverty without first removing their kids. In addition, early intervention programs, such as those that provide coaching to at-risk mothers and their infants/toddlers have shown great results. 

Removing a child even for a short time can be very traumatic. Psychology backs this up. Take this LA Times article “When pregnant women who abuse opioids are treated like criminals, their babies suffer.” In it, Dr. Rahul Gupta, chief medical officer for the March of Dimes, says: “The best way to protect babies that we know is to figure out a regulatory framework that allows the mother-child dyad to be maintained after birth.”

The foster care system is already overburdened. It’s also costly to remove a child and place them in foster care, where monthly stipends and health insurance must be paid by the state. I think that money could be better spent helping keep families intact. 

Systemic racism is also at play in removing children from their birth families. Take this quote from the National Conference of State Legislators: “The overrepresentation of African-American and Native American children in the child welfare system is a troubling and complex phenomenon. Thirty-three percent of kids in foster care are African-American, but they make up only 15 percent of the child population. Yet federal studies indicate that child abuse and neglect is actually lower for black families than it is for whites.”

Obviously in the case of sexual abuse or severe physical abuse, the child must be removed and protected. In those cases, if an appropriate kinship placement can’t be found, then a guardianship arrangement or permanent foster care home might be better than adoption. That way, the new guardians still receive all the support they need to deal with complex issues, and the child doesn’t feel their identity is taken. If the child turns 18, and all agree to an adoption, then great. 

In the case of domestic infant adoption, birth mothers often feel coerced. They are fed a narrative that doesn’t jive with the deep trauma they experience on being separated from their infant, and they don’t receive the information or help they need. (See the first linked article for more on the differences in regulation between the U.S. and Europe.) In many cases, mothers would choose to parent if they had the support and financial means. In addition, birth parents’ circumstances may change in the near future, while adoption is permanent. Domestic infant adoption is a multi-million-dollar business. Should babies be a business? 

I know it’s unrealistic to think those funds will magically go to help families in need, but nonprofits and volunteers are stepping in to help, such as Saving Our Sisters

With international adoption, the children often have living relatives, but poverty is a driving factor. When children are adopted internationally, they not only lose their birth family, they lose their entire culture, language and country. International adoption is also a multi-million-dollar business. 

In the Psychology Today article “Changing Paradigms in International Adoption,” Susan McQuillan says: “There was and continues to be a need for research that reflects the diverse voices of adoptees and seeks to understand the experience of adoption from various perspectives, rather than the simple and traditional ‘rescue’ narrative.”

I don’t have all the answers. But I think that collectively, we must indeed begin to change our paradigm from “saving a child” from poor circumstances to helping families in need.

I understand what I’m saying is going to upset a lot of people. But ask, what’s your stake in it? Even if we’ve played a part in a broken system, we can still educate ourselves and change our beliefs to help create better systems going forward. 

* Non-adoptees: Start educating yourself by listening to adoptees at Dear Adoption and I Am Adopted and by following the many adoptee bloggers like The Wounded Adoptee. Also check out my blog highlighting books by adoptees. 

Image credit: "Beagle" by Claudio Matsuoka, licensed under CC BY 2.0


  1. I am so happy that you have begun this important dialogue. The references are a definite plus. I read each one. Thank you for this blog. We need to be "change agents" - benefiting everyone involved in the process.


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